Storyline: Lakers Tampering

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Adds a current Eastern Conference GM: “You don’t get free agents without it. [Tampering] is what the whole league is built on. That’s the only way you can get anything done.” That’s why the executives contacted by B/R were surprised the Pacers demanded an investigation by the league at all. One called it “bush league.” Several others opined that the Pacers must’ve had some hard-proof evidence. Almost all presumed owner Herb Simon was simply too irate about George’s proclamation that he would leave in free agency to let him go quietly.

While there have been previous instances where teams were upset they lost a star player and suspected the recruiting process began well before his contract officially expired, most have swallowed their anger rather than draw added attention to the fact they were spurned or invite similar scrutiny. “You better be careful what you ask for,” says the former GM. “That kind of disclosure becomes a two-way street. You sure you want the league to look at every phone call and email you’ve sent?”

The league also said it had previously warned the Lakers after Johnson joked with Jimmy Kimmel on the late-night host’s talk show about what communication he is allowed to have with George if they would see each other in the offseason. “This is just on a late-night show being funny,” Johnson said after touring a donation facility he helped organize with West Angeles Church to benefit victims of Tropical Storm Harvey. “But now I know I can’t do that. We’re OK. I haven’t thought twice about it. We made a mistake. … It’s under my watch. I’m gonna make sure it doesn’t happen anymore.”
3 months ago via ESPN

The league’s investigation found that Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and George’s agent, Aaron Mintz, had discussions in which George’s name came up and Pelinka offered a “prohibited expression of interest” to Mintz. The finding comes off a little like a state trooper pulling over a single car for speeding when the flow of traffic is all pushing 80, or the NCAA targeting a specific program for a probe while infractions run rampant among all its competitors in the conference in which it plays. That is to say, if there is a rule in place that can’t be universally enforced, those who do get caught for breaking it end up as almost sympathetic characters in a way.

Here is what Peter Vecsey, who was the first to report on the issue, said about potential punishments (via Patreon): “If deemed guilty, the Lakers’ franchise could be docked multiple draft picks (Timberwolves lost five first-rounders, got two back, but were shut out of draft in 2001, ’02 & ’04), their hierarchy could be suspended for a year or more (like T’Wolf owner Glen Taylor and GM Kevin McHale and a team lawyer for entering into a fraudulent series of contracts with Joe Smith) and fined millions (it cost Wolves $3.5M). The most severe punishment could be forbidding the Lakers to sign George when he’s free next summer.”

Still, it’s necessary, and it’s especially necessary in a league where players are forever angling to align themselves with existing super teams. It’s especially necessary for small- and mid-market teams to hold big-market teams’ feet to the fire in these cases. All over the league, teams like Indiana, Oklahoma City and Salt Lake are losing their star players, creating a very uneven playing field and giving rise to the super team phenomenon. In fact, there’s word that other small- and mid-market team officials have reached out to the Pacers and told them, “Good for you. Fight the good fight.”

“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.” The only difference between what teams usually do and this is that a complaint was filed, and the league must investigate. It’s possible that Magic slipped somewhere with an incriminating text or email. After all, he even went on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and joked about tampering.

The Lakers have been under investigation by the NBA for tampering allegations since May because of a conversation Magic Johnson had on a television show about then-Indiana All-Star forward Paul George that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing matter. The interview took place in April. Team officials aren’t allowed to make contact with a player or their representatives until the free-agency period opens on July 1.
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November 19, 2017 | 11:03 pm EST Update
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